Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Very Long Abridged Version of My History with Women's History

My husband spoke last Sunday morning in front of 500 plus people in two different shoes. I didn’t even notice. When my mother-in-law jokingly said, “girl, you need to help that boy find his shoes!” I quickly retorted that I would certainly not help him find his shoes. “He’s 27 and fully capable of looking through the closet on his own!” After our conversation, Neal asked me why I had been so quick in my response. And I realized it. The chord of feminism had been struck again.

I grew up in southern California. I didn’t see ever Tom Cruise or Heather Locklear walking down the street, but I did refuse to buy leather products, raised money to save the rain forest, sponsored a whale and adopted a modified vegetarian diet. Needless to say, the culture and credos of “hippy California” (quoting someone who dresses in the dark) influenced my worldview. It’s no wonder, then, that I would have issues with the way history has devalued its women.

As I learned about world history in school, I was genuinely grieved that women as a whole have not played a bigger part. They’ve been treated as second-class citizens and relegated to subservient roles in every tribe, culture and nation. (If I’m wrong, please email me. I’d truly like to be corrected.) And while this bothered me, somehow I could reconcile these abuses with the fact that this world is fallen. I shouldn’t expect power-hungry men who have no fear of God to subscribe to some notion that men and women are equal in value.

My real problems began when I started reading the Bible. I was in 6th grade when I responded to a challenge of reading through the Bible in one year. It took me a year and a half, but I plugged away and eventually finished. There were times when I was captivated and truly saw a narrative of God’s love for man (or, should I say, humankind). Other times, though, I was ill-equipped to correctly understand what I was reading. I was amused as I stumbled through some strange stories. There was the lesson Ezekiel tried to teach by cooking his food over cow dung; the story of a defeated army walking back to its country with butts exposed; and the portrayal of the Noah who saved humanity getting drunk and passing out naked. All of these could have all made for some good SNL parodies.

As I read, though, I hit some less amusing obstacles. Men who had long been my childhood heroes, I learned had several wives. There were some commands that God spoke directly to Moses that seemed unfair with regard to women and girls. Further along, in letters that the apostles wrote to church plants, there were seemingly sexist directives concerning women and their roles in the family and in the church. Themes of quietness, submission and male leadership appeared to be in direct contradiction to the roles of leadership I had been operating in. I was confused about how I should participate in ministry, about what my future marriage might look like, and ultimately what my identity was in God’s eyes.

So, in an effort to clear things up, to give God a chance to explain himself, I wrote to an influential biblical authority in my life. Focus on the Family.* I included the most baffling scriptures in my letter and asked them to please explain to me what they really meant. They promptly replied: “We at Focus on the Family deal with family issues. We’re not biblical scholars. So, we’ve included a book to help answer your questions.” Forgive the sarcasm, but the role women play in family and the church—that doesn’t fall under “family issues?” And the book, while very informative on creation versus evolution, the veracity of the Bible and other apologetics, didn’t even hint at my questions.

I realized then that I would find no easy answers. This journey would last longer than I first expected. 14 years later, I am in a much better place. Many of those original scriptures have been made clear to me in an accurate and enlightening way (it’s all about the context). I now realize that God has chosen to work with imperfect humans and the grace that I afforded secular history I’m beginning to dole out to the players of biblical history. Just as He did not wait on me to get my act together before initiating relationship, neither did He wait on my childhood heroes. I’m married now and have been practicing the concept of submission, as taught in the Bible. I’ve never once felt degraded, limited or patronized. My husband honors and respects me and challenges me to greatness far more than I could ever push myself. And that ultimate question, the one of my identity before God, has been settled. God has intervened in my life, changing its destructive trajectory even though it cost him his Son. His presence has never failed me. The sacrifice he made just to be near me is enough. Questions may raise, more puzzles may present themselves, but I am secure in my value as defined by my God.

But the shoes, the shoes, you might note-- obviously there are some unsettled issues. And there are. I still take offense too easily; I still aspire to be the next Condoleeza Rice** and I still am suspicious of some men. I’m working on it. For now, though, I’m satisfied with where I am. Even if it means sucking it up and helping someone find his shoes.

* I feel somewhat obligated to say that Focus on the Family is a good organization, yadayada...please don't be offended.
**For the record, there’s nothing wrong with admiring Condoleeza Rice; it just exemplifies my lust for power.
Last Disclaimer: To all the male readers of this post, I'm really not suspicious of you. I like you a lot, truly.

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